The history of opera in Frankfurt

c.1700 a French operatic troupe came to Frankfurt and performed works, mainly, by Jean-Baptiste Lully. Other tours took place later, including a visit in 1745 by Pietro Mingotti’s Italian troupe, which included a Kapellmeister called Christoph Willibald Gluck. Performances took place in temporary venues in the dining halls of larger inns or on wooden stages they brought with them which were set up outside, usually in the Rossmarkt (horse market square).

Frankfurt Comoedienhaus
1782 – 1880 the Comoedienhaus, with c. 1000 seats, on what is now Rathenauplatz, the first purpose built theatre, created by master builder Johann Andreas Liebhardt, in Frankfurt, scheduled plays and operas. The first performance was Johann Christian Bock’s play Hanno, Fürst im Norden/Hanno, Prince in the North.

1783 Mozart’s opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail/The Abduction from the Seraglio is performed.

1785 fire in the Comoedienhaus.

1788 Die Hochzeit des Figaro/Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni (1789) are performed. Performers are still travelling theatre troupes.

1790 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – with rather luke warm response from the public – gave a musical academy in the Comoedienhaus.

1792 now known better as the Frankfurter Nationaltheater, it acquired its own orchestra. It was first led by Friedrich Ludwig Aemilius Kuntzen, who was followed by Ferdinand Fränzl and Carl Cannabich. All came from the former court orchestra in Mannheim.

1793 a Frau Rath Goethe sent word to her son in Weimar that: "Die Zauberflöte was a wonderful success on stage in Frankfurt."

1817 -1819 Louis Spohr was Kapellmeister at the theatre, where his operas Faust and Zemire und Azor received their world permieres. Carl Guhr took over after Spohr’s short era, running the theatre from 1821 - 1848.

1842 Hector Berlioz came to a performance of Fidelio and was very impressed. He mentioned it in his memoirs.

1848 Guhr died suddenly. Albert Lortzing was one of those who applied for the job, which went to the composer Louis Schindelmeisser who remained until 1851.

1853 Tannhäuser is performed, the first Wagner opera ever in Frankfurt.

1854 Frankfurt’s Fürstentage are celebrated by a performance of Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia.

1862 Richard Wagner conducted a performance of Lohengrin.

1878 fire broke out during a performance of a play.
Alte Oper 1881
1880 the new Opera House (built by Richard Lucae and today the "Alte Oper" on Opernplatz) opened with Mozart’s Don Giovanni in the presence of Kaiser Wilhelm I. The first performance of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in Frankfurt took place four years later.

Schauspielhaus 1905
1902 new theatre opened on Theaterplatz, today’s Willy-Brandt-Platz. Architect: Christian Heinrich Seeling.

1912 – 1917 legendary world premieres of operas by Franz Schreker performed: Das Spielwerk und die Prinzessin/The Music Box and the Princess, Die Gezeichneten and Der Schatzgräber/The Treasure Seeker.

1914 Richard Strauss conducted Rosenkavalier at Frankfurt Opera, which was followed two years later by the world premiere of Hans Pfitzner’s opera Der arme Heinrich/Poor Heinrich, conducted by the composer.

1924 – 1929 a new production-orientated way of performing opera was established.

1928 world premieres of Kurt Weill’s one act works Der Protagonist and Der Zar lässt sich photographieren/The Tsar allows his photograph to be taken performed for the first time in Frankfurt.

1930 world permiere of Arnold Schönberg’s Von heute auf morgen/From One Day to the Next.

From 1933 people of Jewish origin, including Intendant Josef Thurnau, Oberspielleiter Hans Graf, General Music Director Wilhelm Steinberg, the world famous singer Magda Spiegel and other artists and people who worked at the Opera and Schauspiel were suspended during the National Socialist regime. Many of them where later deported and murdered. General Intendant Hans Meissner began running the Städtische Bühnen in June 1933, remaining in his post throughout the Third Reich. He planned non-risky repertoire in order to avoid conflict with the Party.

1937 world premiere of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana at Frankfurt Opera.

1941 Mozart cycle performed to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the composer’s death.

1944 the opera house and theatre are destroyed in air raids. The Opera then performed in theatres in spa towns and other venues in the surrounding area. All theatres in Germany were closed in September 1944. The last work performed in Frankfurt in the National Socialist era was Lehár’s operetta Das Land des Lächelns/The Land of Smiles.

1945 after the war the opera performed in the stock exchange. The first performance in Frankfurt after World War II, Tosca, took place there in September 1945 on a temporary stage. Hopes of rebuilding the badly damaged opera house on Opernplatz came to nothing because of the enormous costs involved.

1948 the Patronatsverein (group of patrons) was founded. They devised ways of raising money to build a theatre on the ruins of what is today Willy-Brandt-Platz.

1949 another dark year in the Städtische Bühnen’s history: 29 people fired and a further 137 warned that they are likely to lose their jobs – the City of Frankfurt is not able (or is not willing) to finance culture in the future. But, before the year was out, a meeting of city councillors confirmed that the former straight theatre would be re-built - a new building to house both the opera and drama companies. The Patronatsverein sold 1.6 million lottery tickets, making a profit of DM.300,000 for the rebuilding work.

1951 the new Städtische Bühnen Frankfurt, designed by Apel, Letocha and Rohrer and fitted out with up to date stage machinery, opened. The first opera performed was Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.
Model double complex 1963
1958 city councillors sanction the building of today’s double theatre on Theaterplatz, now Willy-Brandt-Platz (see photo of model above). The Apel & Beckert architect firm is commissioned.

1963 the new building with its large stages for opera and drama and spectacular glass front opened by the Hungarian artist Zoltán Kemeny.
Opera house fire
1987 opera fly tower destroyed by arsonist (see more: The fire of 1987). During the three years that it took to rebuild the theatre the opera performed on the straight theatre’s stage. Plays were performed in the hastily kitted out Bockenheimer Depot, a venue that is now an established venue in cultural life in Frankfurt.

1991 one of the things to celebrate the re-opening of the theatre was the world permiere, in concert, of Hans Werner Henze’s La selva incantata/The Cursed Wilderness. The first opera on the new stage with its then state of the arts machinery on the evening of the day the theatre opened was Mozart’s Zauberflöte.

2006 3,500 square meters of workshops in the theatre were no longer deemed safe and had to be demolished. Everything in them was transported to Praunheim.

2010 new workshops opened in the 2010/2011 season.

(Historical photographs from: the Institut für Stadtgeschichte Frankfurt)
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Chamber Music in the Foyer
Sunday 06.10.2013 11:00 h

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Sunday 06.10.2013 19:00 h
Opera House

next new production:

(Oberto, Count of San Bonifacio)
Giuseppe Verdi
Thursday 18.02.2016 19:30 h
Opera House


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